And so it's come down to this. Again.
At this point, it feels as if there's really not much to say. The Dallas Stars have three games remaining to rise above the rest, to accomplish what no one else thought possible just a few weeks ago. We've discussed this scenario nearly non-stop since it appeared the Stars would be able to jump right back into the postseason race, and with each day the conversation hasn't changed.
This is the most important game of the season; at least until the next one is. This is the game the entire season rests upon and these two points are the ones that could make or break the Dallas Stars' hopes of finally making the postseason for the first time in five years.
It's the story of David and Goliath, a true underdog team overcoming what appears to be the impossible and having to jump deeper and more talented teams in order to accomplish this incredible goal. It's a story we wish more people would be paying closer attention to, yet we also understand why so many aren't exactly counting on the Stars in these final three games. This is a team that is too shallow up the middle, that is too inexperienced and too inconsistent this season to really put forth the faith needed to really believe that this is possible.
Yet we do believe.
We do have faith.
More importantly, we have pride.
We are proud of a player like Cody Eakin, who has risen well above everything we were told he was when he was acquired last summer. Eakin, a player who hits the ice with maximum effort on every shift and who never seems to have any doubt in his mind over what his mission is and how to accomplish it.
We have pride in Loui Eriksson, who is so obviously battling some harsh struggles this season and who seems to still be lacking the confidence that has made him so good and so dangerous for so long. Yet he hasn't given up, in fact he's trying harder than ever; for better or for worse, he's laying it all out on the ice despite his struggles in putting the puck in the net in 2013.
We have pride in Brenden Dillon, a rookie defenseman who has exceeded any and all expectations as he's stepped up into the role of the shutdown defenseman this franchise has needed for so long. He's a hard-hitting, smart hockey player who is an even better person off the ice and perhaps he's a player we should be most proud of above all others.
We are proud of Jamie Benn, for stepping up and attempting to lead this team the best way he knows how - at 100 mph, with the puck on his stick, bull rushing his way up the ice with one of the deadliest shots in the NHL.
We have pride in Alex Goligoski, who has overcome near-impossible levels of expectations placed upon him by a trade he never created and an organizational need the Stars desperately needed him to fill. He's still not playing within his comfort zone and he'll never be the best defenseman in his own zone, but you can see the confidence and will he's playing with now. Against the Kings and the Blues Goligoski was more physical than we've ever seen him -- for better or worse -- as he's also leading the charge of whatever it takes, that's what I'll do.
We are proud of Ray Whitney, the elder statesman, who has become a calming influence on a team in turmoil and the prime example of how to conduct yourself on and off the ice. Whitney's playmaking skills have been extraordinary to behold yet it's his demeanor and leadership that matters the most.
We have pride in Vernon Fiddler and Eric Nystrom, who have stepped up and taken over a team desperately in need of veteran leadership and who have proven wrong all of those that doubted them for so long. Fiddler and Nystrom stand in the place of everything this current team represents, two players who are rising well above and beyond what anyone could have reasonably expected.
We could go down the list of nearly every player on this current roster and say the same thing. This is finally a team, and one that is attacking the opposition on that principle alone. There is no one or two players driving this bus forward; if the Dallas Stars are to succeed, they will succeed - or fail - as a team. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I was curious as to the resolve of this team and the newfound faith of the fanbase should the Stars stumble in this shortened journey. Three losses in four games have certainly shaken our belief that this thing is possible, as it's clear with each game the sort of monster the Dallas Stars are up against in this battle.
These other teams are more talented. They're deeper and more experienced. They have more experienced coaches and haven't been riding on luck, hard work and sheer will over these past two weeks like the Stars have.
If the Dallas Stars are to make the playoffs, they're going to have to earn that playoff berth. This isn't something that will be handed to them with ease, where the Stars stumble down the finish and then back into the postseason - this is a fight to the finish and one that will now almost assuredly come down to a do-or-die game against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
Frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
The odds are stacked against them and we all know this is a team playing well above their heads. We have no illusions about the sort of team the Dallas Stars are putting on the ice but we don't care - we finally have a team to feel proud of in the final week of the season. While we all hope for the best we all know the Stars are playing with house money at this point; any positive outcome would be unexpected and certainly rejoiced, yet failure here will not be met with abject panic or negativity.
Perhaps that's the biggest change from a month ago until now. Our expectations and perspective on this team and this season have changed. We see more talented and deeper teams struggling to meet lofty goals on the season and we realize that while the Stars might not be best on paper - we're finally rooting for a team we can feel good about and we know that even in failure this is a Dallas Stars team that will give it everything they have and leave everything on the ice in pursuit of that goal.
The loss in Los Angeles was heart breaking, but I don't think I've ever been more proud of the Dallas Stars as I was in that moment when regulation ended and the game went into overtime. The Stars roared back from two goals behind and actually took the lead in the third period - that would not have happened just a few short weeks ago. It wouldn't have happened last season, or the year before - not at this point in the season.
Perhaps tonight's game in San Jose will prove to be too much, that this is the night the bubble will burst. A loss won't end all possibilities of a Dallas Stars berth in the playoffs but it certainly won't hurt. Perhaps an angry and hard-hitting Sharks team will do what they couldn't nine days prior, busting past the Stars hard-shelled defense around the net with the relentless attack we witnessed at the AAC last Saturday night.
I've written nearly the same post as this a few times now, but the same feelings presented here still apply and will apply no matter what the outcome of tonight's game or in the final three games of the season. All I ever wanted this season were players and a team I could finally express the tangential pride I've always had in this franchise from the moment I stepped foot into Reunion Arena all those years ago.
Let's go Stars.